Beha'alotecha is the Torah portion that is always read the first or second Shabbat after the holiday of Shavuot, the annual celebration of the renewal of G‑d's giving the Torah at Sinai to the Jews. Therefore, there must be a connection between this portion and how we should perceive ourselves after receiving the Torah.

Every Jewish soul is analogous to a candle...

The second verse, "when you raise up the candles," is a statement describing the essential human relationship to the Divine. In Torah terminology, a candle is a vessel that includes a wick and oil, that must be lit with a flame. Every Jewish soul is analogous to a candle, as it says in the verse, "The soul of man is G‑d's candle". (Proverbs 20:27) The seven candles that the Menorah in the Sanctuary and the Holy Temple in Jerusalem contained the seven levels of serving G‑d: chesed - love of G‑d; gevura - awe and fear of G‑d; tiferet - beauty, the realization of G‑d's great compassion towards us; netzach - eternity, overcoming any obstacle to our service; hod - glory, demanding of ourselves awe of G‑d, even when we do not feel it fully in our hearts; yesod - not just feeling, but truly connecting ourselves to the emotions of love and fear; malchut – kingship, actively taking on the divine yoke with humility and subservience.

Another "candle" analogy is found in the verse, "a candle is a commandment and Torah is light". (Proverbs 6/23)

In light of these verses, raising up the candle means to spark "the soul of man", with the divine light of His commandments and Torah. In doing so, we will "illuminate" the body and its physical aspects with the innate spiritual light of the divine soul. This, in turn, should bring us to the realization that the whole existence of the Jew is "a menorah made entirely of gold," as is written in this week's haftara. (Zechariah 4:2)

A candelabra has two components: the light and the vessel that holds the light. This corresponds to the soul and the body. By "raising up the candle" we not only reveal the soul in the body, but we clarify that the body is made to be a vessel for the soul.

The Torah requires a specific way that the Jewish soul should be raised up. Rashi, the main commentator on the Torah, explains there that the candle must be lit until the flame can stand alone, without any further need for the one who lit it. Judaism requires that each person "raise up his candle" through his own effort. The soul comes into the body to use his or her own strength to act and thereby become a partner with G‑d in the creation of the world. The true nature of man is to take pleasure in his own accomplishment, his efforts that bring results, not in things done or given to him without merit.

However, there is a question. In the paradigm of the Temple menorah, the candle is lit by a candle lighter, without whom there can be no candle that shines on its own. But with us, you could say that G‑d is doing all the work. He sends the soul into the body, He gives us the required capabilities, and even afterward, every step of the way, He helps us. Where is ‘the flame’ standing on its own?

It is man alone...who can take credit for what he or she accomplishes ...

One answer that can be given is connected to the Talmudic statement that "the 'helper' has no responsibility"; (Shabbat 93) even though man below is being helped from above, that assistance is on a spiritual level that does not in any way obligate physical reality. It is man alone, a spiritual soul in a physical body, who can take credit for what he or she accomplishes in the physical plane. By our choosing to make the world physically a better place we have taken full control of our lives, the Almighty's help not withstanding.

This is not only true of the Jew in relation to himself but also in relation to the world. The real innovation of Torah and its commandments, which almost exclusively involves transforming physical objects into spiritual entities by a soul in a physical body, is that one can choose to act in a manner opposite to holiness. This reveals the power of our free choice, that when we choose the Torah path, we are acting on our own strengths and that therefore the true credit is ours.

This is the essence of Beha'alotecha , that the flame can stand alone, that the candelabra itself shines and illuminates the surroundings, that through our efforts we bring true divine light into the world, and like the tabernacle in the desert, create a dwelling place for G‑d, to dwell among us, literally.

[Adapted from a talk of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Sivan 5760]

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

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